Not rated, but there's some language. Let's also talk about the fact that this is a true crime story. There's drug use. There's violence. There are lies and abuse. Also, for some reason, when they show the diagram of where a bullet entered and left a body, that is pretty unsettling. I don't know. It just gives me the heebie-jeebies. The movie is overall pretty haunting, so definitely show some discretion when watching it.
DIRECTOR: Errol Morris
I, like most of America right now, tend to indulge the sick part of my brain that is into true crime. My wife is the real deviant when it comes to this stuff. She loves true crime stuff. I dabble and I only really dabble because Lauren likes / liked it so much. Before you go any farther, yes, I will probably watch Evil Genius. I don't know what makes it so fascinating. I'm pretty much bored with police procedurals. But this is the story of an innocent man (or someone who is probably innocent) sitting in a jail cell because the justice system is all screwed up. I don't want the justice system to be all screwed up. I want it functional and defending the innocent. I want to know that I'm living in a country that is planned to account for the innocent. Yeah, this is not that story. This is the story that tells me that we have a long way to go.
As a pro-life Catholic, this might be the perfect moral tale about how a country that choose to kill its criminals causes more problems than it solves. The Thin Blue Line wouldn't happen if we got rid of the death penalty. I'm going to go into some spoilery stuff. I'm going to try to keep it to the periphery, but I also don't plan these things very well. The movie not only posits that Randall Adams is innocent of the crime was convicted of, but kind of proves it. There's a straight up confession from the guy who really did it. History, because of this documentary, would side with Adams, eventually granting him his freedom. But the reason why Adams was in prison to begin with was solely because of the existence of a death penalty. People wanted vengeance and Randall Adams could be the scapegoat for that vengeance. The basic premise is that the murder of a police officer came down to two suspects: Randall Adams and David Harris. David Harris was 16 and could not be tried as an adult. As such, he could not receive the death penalty. Randall Adams, however, was an adult. The long and short of the whole thing is that Adams had far less evidence pointing his way. The police seemed to know this and were doing anything they could to make sure that there was a public display of justice in the death of a police officer and a sixteen-year-old boy who could not receive the death penalty wasn't going to do it. Why is the world kind of a bummer? Inherently, this review is going to be political because this movie was inherently political. I'm also saying that not all justice is like this. But The Thin Blue Line is a scary concept. This isn't one or two police officers who made this choice. This was the institution of justice that made this happen in Dallas County. There are so many steps along the way during Randall Adams's trial that should have been cleared up by someone honest on the prosecution that it becomes somewhat disheartening. I guess the theme is that people will do anything to protect themselves.
Early in the movie, it is obvious that there's a lot of pass-the-buckery. Someone needs to take the blame for why things went so badly. The biggest example was the other officer at the scene of the crime. Don't get me wrong, it looks pretty bad for her. There are a bunch of scenarios that are presented. It's like a documentary version of Rashomon. In the reenactments, the information is performed matching statements of different people's testimonies. Even in the best of the scenarios, the slain officer's partner made a lot of mistakes. Some of them are minor mistakes, like she was in the back of the vehicle instead of on the side of the vehicle. Some versions of the story, which are kind of supported by evidence, says that she was still in the cop car drinking a milkshake. That one is not so good. But these moments are almost inconsequential as opposed to the desperation to find a reason why things went so poorly. The slain officer's partner was one of the only women officers on the force. Oh. My. Goodness. There are so many people trying to blame this woman for everything going wrong. Don't get me wrong. She made big ol' mistakes. I don't think any part of them had to do with her being a woman or her being one of the first woman officers on the police force. I think that most of it comes from an institutional laziness. If the slain officer (and I'm REALLY not blaming him) was concerned, I'm sure that he would have insisted on the other officer providing backup. I think that this was an example of taking a shortcut that many people, not only police officers, do. But this incident is so telling about how everyone wanted to pass the buck to someone else. Yeah, the movie makes the defense look like they are the moral crusaders we need in this civilization. The movie is clearly bias, but that's not the worst thing in the world. There are so many gaps in what should be happening versus what does actually happen. It's so odd to think that the true crime documentary is just commonplace now, but what Morris is doing is really revolutionary. He's questioning a system that is considered sacred here. I'm positive that this movie made a lot of enemies. It's not at all flattering to the police departments of America or to this justice system. We're so used to criticizing these institutions today that it must have been complete sacrilege at the time to do so. But the movie really does establish a clear point of view. I think that's where people could argue against this movie. Most documentaries have a very clear perspective. They are editorials on the events in some ways. But certain topics need to be presented without objectivity. They need to present the truth and I hope to God that the events included in this story are the truth. But Morris is fighting for social change and that is important.
The way the movie is made is pretty interesting. I normally don't like reenactments in my documentaries. I don't know why it always distances me from the events of the story. It always seems cheap. There are some complaints I have about the reenactments. It think it is odd to have the cops played by people who clearly look nothing like the original people and are as white as can be. Avoiding the racial choices was very very weird and I think it might have soured some of the milk for me, but it wasn't the end of world. But the reenactment sequences are powerful. I don't know what makes a scene like that come across as goofy or heavy handed, but the scenes in The Thin Blue Line are actually remarkably powerful. It's really weird because there was some really artificial foley going on with the police lights, but it did create this very cool effect. Morris has a cinematic view of things. The recreated footage looks more like a movie than anything else. This is all intercut with interviews by talking heads, so it creates a documentary feel to it. But even the interviews are on film. Again, this movie was made in 1988. I know that video existed for this stuff, but I don't know if it would have been so prominent as an alternative to film at this juncture. Also, there has to be Morris's acknowledgement that he had to give this film a degree of legitimacy. He was going to be spitting in some very powerful faces. I imagine that if the movie looked chincy, that would have instantly taken away all legitimacy from what he was trying to achieve. There are sound issues, but I have to blame recording equipment from the time. It had to be portable and it had to record a lot of audio. As such, some of the dialogue is a little garbled, but I was able to watch with subtitles, which helped a lot.
The movie is extremely effective. Don't get me wrong. It's a huge bummer, but it is one of those stories that kind of needed to be told. I can't imagine we would have Serial or Making a Murderer without The Thin Blue Line. My friend told me that this movie was garbage and I can see it fundamentally being polarizing. I hope most people give it a chance. It's pretty low risk. It's on Netflix right now, making it an easy view. I have to read more about this movie later because I need to know if anyone is contesting it, but it is really interesting.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.